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Greenpeace Protests Dark Fleet Tankers, Targeting Baltic Bunker Vessel

Greenpeace protest
Greenpeace activists painted messages on the hull of a bunker vessel operating in the Baltic (Greenpeace photo - Will Rose)

Published Apr 12, 2024 6:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Activists for Greenpeace Nordic this morning April 12 targeted a bunker vessel in the Baltic for their latest protests over the Russian oil trade and their assertions that it is a “ticking environmental bomb” for the Baltic. Using two small rubber boats, the activists painted the messages “Oil is War,” and “People Want Peace,” on the hull of the MT Zircone (8,000 dwt).

The protest followed a report by SVT Nyheter, Sweden’s biggest TV network, that alleges the bunker vessel is fueling the shadow fleet of tankers transporting Russian oil. The broadcaster reported that the bunker vessel which operates out of Latvia and is owned by an Estonian company has been operating for the past few months off the coast of Gotland, a Swedish island that is alongside the main shipping channel in the Baltic.

SVT’s analysis said over the past two months 56 vessels had been refueled of which they contend 52 were either sailing to or from Russia. They said the majority of the refueling was for tankers in the so-called shadow fleet operating from the Russian oil terminal of Primorsk.

 

(Greenpeace photo copyrighted by Will Rose)

 

Fast Bunkering, which operates the Cyprus-registered Zircone did not deny the fueling operations when contacted by both SVT and Reuters but contends it complies with all applicable sanctions and restrictions. They said they are not using Russian oil but instead are sourcing from Europe and highlighted that the sanctions do not prohibit the fueling of tankers. The company’s CEO in a statement to Reuters denied bunkering shadow fleet vessels.

SVT contents the Swedish Coast Guard and authorities launched a preliminary investigation into the bunkering operation but closed the investigation saying at most the Latvian authorities would have imposed a fine.  SVT contends the vessel was initially operating without a Swedish permit, but that the Swedish authorities have now granted it a permit for its bunkering operations. They report the vessel has Russian crewmembers and that the Swedish authorities are continuing to track its operations.

Fast Bunkering, which has a fleet of eight bunker vessels including the Zircone, contends that customers asked for the service near Gotland.

Greenpeace says its activists contacted the Zircone this morning by radio and in both Russian and English clarified their intentions. They painted their messages on the hull of the vessel as part of the protest which Greenpeace says was peaceful.

 

(Greenpeace photo copyrighted by Will Rose)

 

“Every day, the rusty tankers of the Russian shadow fleet ship enormous amounts of Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, and pose a serious threat to our seas and coastlines,” said Erika Bjureby, head of Greenpeace in Sweden. “We demand that the Swedish government stop allowing the shadow fleet to be refueled in Swedish waters, and thus remove infrastructure that currently facilitates Russia's oil exports that finance the war in Ukraine.”

Greenpeace reports that as much as 60 percent of the oil that Russia exports by tanker passes through the Baltic. They are saying that the EU sanctions are vague and that the Swedish and Danish governments are ignoring warnings of the dangers and let the shadow fleet vessels refuel at Gotland and sail through the Great Belt, the critical shipping lane between Sweden and Denmark.

They highlighted that the shadow fleet is “rusty tankers that are often worn out and old, missing inspections, have dubious insurance if any at all, obscure ownership, and are registered in countries with lax regulations.” Greenpeace further highlighted previous incidents, including the tanker Andromeda Star being involved in a collision in March in Öresund and in May 2023 the tanker Canis Power blacking out and drifting for six hours while transporting 340,000 barrels of oil.

They used today’s protest to highlight a petition drive to demand action from the Swedish government before there is an environmental disaster in the Baltic. Greenpeace has targeted tankers and gas carriers in the more than two years since the war began in Ukraine. Concerns about the shadow fleet's operations in the waters around Denmark have repeatedly raised concerns with reports the vessels are sailing without pilots.